Picture the scene. You’re hunting the forests of the Pacific Northwest in search of record giants. On a hillside you can see the outline of a massive trunk in the distance. Is it a Western Red Cedar? Douglas fir? Whatever the answer is, you’re determined to find out! You struggle up the steep slope, and suddenly that tree disappears quickly, as though it had been an apparition. Why? Because now you’re going to have to scramble over some fallen timber and around a sharp cliff face before you can see it again. You press on, momentarily cursing the obstructions, and grab onto a nearby limb to pull yourself upward. Oddly, you observe, the tree you’re holding onto also has needles growing out of the trunk, and its bark is a beautifully understated hue of reddish brown, and then you look upward…and realize the tree in question is a very sizeable Pacific Yew!
That, so often, is typical of how one happens upon a yew in the forest. It grows inconspicuously, its base preferring the shaded understory beneath the towering trees above. Meanwhile, its upper branches reach higher into the forest canopy, gathering more sunlight for growth. Quite often you’ll see one from afar and assume it’s either dead, or deciduous, as frequently there is little foliage on the lower extremities of an older specimen. The overwhelming notion, though, is that you seem to stumble upon them, as though they are hidden in plain sight!
While they aren’t frequent topics of discussion among tree hunters, they are nevertheless highly significant forest dwellers. Their flaking bark is frequently home to mosses that give refuge to flora, and their trunks, which are usually hollow, are often home to Douglas Squirrels and other small rodents. At higher elevations, the tree grows closer to the ground and seems to have more limbs. Quite often, when you walk a mountain trail at elevations up to 800m, you’ll inadvertently grab a piece of one to assist you upward!
The giants of the species are not exceptionally large when compared to their forest companions. The largest one in British Columbia, for example, is just 0.91m in diameter at breast height, fairly modest in comparison to, say, that 14 foot wide cedar that may be growing nearby! It has a consistent habit of rotting from the inside out, making it difficult to determine its precise age, but I’ve managed to find several that are at least 300 years old. It also boasts wood that is exceptionally hard, which can dull a chainsaw chain after a single cut, or so I’ve been told.
I’ve grown fond of these underrated denizens of the rainforest over the years. The next time you walk through an ancient forest, take a closer look around. You might soon find yourself looking at a beautiful Pacific Yew, and once you do, you’ll be seeing the forest for ALL the trees!
They nicknamed it Eden Grove, reminiscent of the Garden of Eden, which, in theological lore, was intended to be the paradise where mankind had its hopeful beginnings. Some years ago, Ken Wu and TJ Watt of the Ancient Forest Alliance (AFA) happened upon this spectacular grove of trees in the heart of Vancouver Island’s Gordon River Valley, not far from Port Renfrew. As the raven flies, it is located on Edinburgh Mountain, just minutes from the iconic Big Lonely Doug, the now legendary Douglas Fir which has only recently been designated for protection by the Government of British Columbia. Eden Grove (not an official name) falls within the traditional lands of the Pacheedaht First Nation. It is about thirty hectares of prime valley bottom ancient forest. Douglas Fir and Western Red Cedar are the showcase species, including one cedar that’s well over twelve feet in diameter! Many of the specimens there are likely 500 to 1000 years in age, but forests as rich in biodiversity as Eden Grove can take up to twice that long to fully evolve.
Recently, I had the opportunity to tour this grove with local adventure guide and tree enthusiast Duncan Morrison. A resident of Sooke, just east of Port Renfrew, he’s quite knowledgeable about the area and keenly interested in saving its ancient forests. We met in Lake Cowichan and drove out to the coast from there, with the clearcuts visible from the now paved Harris Creek Main a sombre reminder of past forest management decisions. I had been looking forward to visiting these trees since earlier this year, when I visited Avatar Grove and Big Lonely Doug in March. We arrived in late morning on a warm summer day in August, and it was something of a relief when we dropped into the cool shade of Eden Grove.
The rough route through the grove was actually well trodden in places, a surprise to me, as I had thought it a relative secret. We met a number of like minded people enjoying their opportunity to travel back in time, as it were, while sunshine filtered through the canopy above.
It took just a minute or two to reach one of Eden Grove’s largest cedars, which measures a healthy 39 feet around! I could hear the calls of many birds there, though we saw very few. The mosquitoes and flies, though, were another story, as they found us right away!
It is not just the trees here that are at stake. Among other species, these lands are also known to provide homes for cougars, black bears, Roosevelt elk, marbled murrelets, Queen Charlotte goshawks, and Northern red legged frogs. Watch this video that the Ancient Forest Alliance put together, it really emphasizes just how crucial habitat like this is to wildlife. You can also read about a most interesting tree climb that took place in Eden Grove back in 2016, when the AFA teamed up with expert tree climbers Matthew Beatty of the Arboreal Collective and Damien Carré of Expedition Old Growth to ascend a giant Douglas Fir in the endangered forest.
Fifteen minutes into our hike brought us to the marking for the planned logging road into the grove. It looked as though it would lead into Eden Grove from the general direction of the clearcut that’s home to Big Lonely Doug. Much as I’d like to say it was hard to imagine a road there, it was not, as I’ve seen it happen many times in other places.
There are times when I photograph a forest that I have to make a concerted effort to show its beauty, and then there are the times when it comes easily. On this excursion, it definitely was the latter, as Eden Grove delivered in every way. Walk with me, I’ll let the images speak for themselves, with a few captions…
We meandered on, toward one of the more interesting sights in the forest. There are two ancient cedars that stand together, in more ways than one! For now at least, the larger of the two steadfastly supports the other, which leans to the right at a considerable angle. Duncan took to calling them The Arch.
The understory is diverse and alive with greenery. There are more than a few fallen giants now providing their nutrients to the forest as they decay, completing their own circles of life. These downed trees also provide shelter for small animals, amphibians, and insects.
Eventually you swing gradually to the right and follow the top of an embankment, which is where the cut block boundary has been marked. The hillside beneath is packed with ferns, but above them all, there are a few more unexpected delights.
A most peculiar cedar with a radically twisted trunk is sure to get your attention. I have taken to calling it “The Corkscrew Cedar”.
The magic continued, more than enough to keep two enthusiastic tree hunters more than busy. Duncan knew the route was soon to end, so we took a break for a few minutes for a bite to eat and discussed what to do next. He was hoping to go for a quick swim in a nearby creek, while I was preoccupied with bushwhacking to a cedar we had spotted across a steep ravine!
During our brief stop, we were looking straight at what I am calling the Boundary Cedar, which sits right along that line of falling boundary tape. I suspect it to be in the nine foot diameter range but we did not measure it.
As anyone who has read the Old Testament might know, not everything went well in the Garden of Eden, and B.C.’s forests, metaphorically, have also been forever changed by those tempted by avarice. Recently there has been heated discussion about preserving the remaining old growth forests in the province of British Columbia, but the oldest of habits die hard. Logging company Teal Jones, which holds the timber license for Eden Grove, has even made a recent announcement that they are closing all of their mills that process second growth timber on Vancouver Island. Their intent, in the future, is to exclusively log profitable stands of ancient forest, and that has the clock ticking loudly toward the destruction of Eden Grove. Indeed, they have already begun logging in several other sections of the valley, and it may not be long before the grove becomes yet another clearcut!
Roughly ten yards from our lunch spot, we located the largest tree in the grove, which I’ll call the Eden Giant. It’s quite a sight, at nearly 40 feet in circumference and close to 13 feet at its widest diameter! It would not surprise me if it were well over 800 years old!
Having seen much of what the forest had to offer, we finally decided to hike back to the logging road. I also took a few, errrr, maybe a lot more more pictures! The end of the route is well enough marked, so that you know where to turn around.
On the way into the grove, as I mentioned earlier, we had sighted a cedar that was on the opposite side of a dry creek bed that I just had to see! Getting to it involved clambering over some fairly precarious ground. Duncan, having recently had knee surgery, wisely chose to wait for me as I made my way to it. At first I thought that it was dead, but closer inspection revealed that it is still clinging to life, with just one strong limb still growing.
I was glad to have made the detour across the ravine, but just as stoked to be back on the easier ground again! It was around this time we ran into a couple of hikers and chatted about these trees. It’s always encouraging to meet like minded people!
When we got back to the road, Duncan headed off to enjoy that refreshing swim he’d been thinking about, while I got sidetracked photographing the unnamed creek nearby. Maybe it should be called Eden Creek! There’s even a small waterfall nearby but I took no picture of it as a number of people were swimming there. Seems like Duncan wasn’t the only one thinking about cooling off that day!
The British Columbia New Democratic Party (BCNDP) campaigned on a promise to review and increase the protection of our fast shrinking ecological treasures, but in reality, their policy has been “business as usual”. All they have done to date is to designate a mere 54 significant trees for preservation, many of which were never expected to be logged. Unfortunately, while Forest Minister Doug Donaldson and Premier John Horgan refuse to implement a moratorium on old growth logging, the timber companies are, if anything, stepping up their activities. It is as though they have decided, that now is the time to escalate their efforts, rather than decrease them. Coastal temperate rainforests have been under attack for over a century now, and the crisis has risen well past the point of no return. Additionally, government policies and some of their definitions have only served to confuse the facts and end up distorting the truth. They have included countless stands of relatively unproductive timber in their inventory of remaining old growth forests in British Columbia, perhaps in order to inflate that number.
The reality is that valley bottom stands of ancient forest are disappearing as fast as they can be cut, at a rate of roughly 34 football fields per day in British Columbia alone! On Vancouver Island, almost 94% of the valley bottom ancient forest has already been cut. We hear the government say that they know, as do the timber companies, that logging these forests is the best way to manage the resource. But is this true? Let’s consider the numbers. Cutting down an old growth forest certainly does bring revenue and jobs, but it also removes a highly desired income source from the eco tourism industry. Much of the planet is becoming very conscious of nature. People want to see the ancient forests, the wild, storm blasted coastal beaches, and the roaring waterfalls! Port Renfrew, once exclusively a logging town, has already seen that writing on the wall. Its business sector has realized the value of the natural world, which they well know can only bring added value to their community. They are even billing the town as ” Tall Tree Capital of Canada”. Studies have shown that the sustainable value from ecotourism far exceeds that of a one time clearcut even if subsequent second growth harvest is factored in. That does not even take into account that many timber companies cut and ship raw logs to foreign countries for cash. When that happens, jobs are actually lost, not created, and in B.C. that questionable practice has gone on for decades!
So what is the ideal solution? Harley Rustad, the author of Big Lonely Doug, has previously suggested that Big Lonely Doug and Eden Grove be designated as a provincial park (story here). What an excellent idea! Honestly, I’d like to see ALL of Edinburgh Mountain’s remaining old growth be saved from the chainsaws, but we do need to start somewhere!
There are precedents for similar commitments in our province already, such as Ancient Forest/Chun T’oh Whudujut Park and Protected Area, which opened in 2016 as our newest provincial park. I made a recent visit there myself and I was thoroughly impressed! It’s important to note, however, that 25% of its forest was logged before it attained protected status, so now, as then, time is of the essence.
Canada ought to become a world leader in conservation, and saving our ancient forests would be an excellent step on that road to future success. Logging companies persist in spreading the notion that forests are a renewable resource, and that in a few decades the trees will grow again. Yes, it’s true, they will grow, and the forest will regenerate to some extent, but places such as Eden Grove will actually take many centuries to resemble what they are today! Considering climate change, that process, in fact, could take even longer, or it may no longer be possible. We have plenty of second growth and less productive older forests that could be cut instead, so it’s about time the logging industry changed its business model. Eden Grove should remain as it was intended to be, a paradise that only nature could have created.
Human intervention has already changed Edinburgh Mountain forever, but there is still time to save what remains of this unique place. I ask that once you have read this story, please share it widely to garner public attention. Feel free to send it to your local Member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA) in British Columbia, and/or your Member of Parliament (MP) in Canada. Most importantly, share your concerns, along with the story, with Doug Donaldson, who is the B.C. Minister of Forests, and John Horgan, the premier of B.C. (both pictured below).
You can also share this story with friends, conservation organizations, media outlets, newspapers, and any other sources that may help to spread the word worldwide. If you do share the story, please do so respectfully, as a constructive discussion needs to take place in order to further this cause.
I’ll leave you with a video that Duncan sent to me that was made in Eden Grove by some friends of his, I hope you enjoy the musical interlude!
*While the Ancient Forest Alliance and other organizations have campaigned for the protection of Eden Grove, neither the BCNDP nor Teal Jones have yet responded positively. Edinburgh Mountain’s ancient forests truly need to be preserved for our future generations! Consider supporting the AFA’s tireless work to save old growth forests in British Columbia in this campaign, and in others, by clicking here
*Though he still remains in an advisory capacity, Ken Wu has since left the AFA in September of 2018 and now heads up the Endangered Ecosystems Alliance
I’ll call him “A”, and ultimately, it was his vision. His brainchild was to build a unique trail joining several challenging obstacles on the east side of Mosquito Creek Canyon to connect with a substantial log crossing on Mosquito Creek. From there, a serpentine path would twist its way through a superb grove of Western Red Cedars on Grouse Mountain that had somehow escaped the crosscut saws of early twentieth century loggers. It would eventually meet with the well worn Lower Grouse Mountain Highway (LGMH) Trail, which could then be used to access other paths. That trail would come to be known as Dreamweaver (click here for map)
Our unnamed trail builder was a highly skilled woodsman with an impressive array of carpentry skills. The evidence shows that he is also someone who seems to like to tackle a difficult project. In other words, the perfect person to battle the route’s obstructions. The crux of the matter was a sharply sloped hillside high above Mosquito Creek bisected by a jagged ravine which had been worsened by decades of flooding. There was also the usual problem of massive fallen trees, not at all uncommon in this canyon.
But were those downed trees really a problem?
“A” certainly didn’t think so. There was a massive log that spanned the hillside, but it was not quite safe for passage, at least not for most hikers. So what was the solution? In time, he figured it out! He would build a bridge using that fallen giant as a base.
In actual fact, that bridge had two incarnations because he wasn’t happy with the prototype. The final version would even be bolstered by wire rope cables. There would also be a sturdy cedar plank deck and some handrails at one end. The result, after all those trials and tribulations, was a secure bridge that could withstand all but the absolute worst of Mosquito Creek’s propensity for natural disaster. It was a complex process into which he put his heart, soul, and determination. Days of work were required, as well as plenty of ingenuity, to get the job completed. A chainsaw, winch, plenty of physical strength, and the occasional friend also proved helpful.
So was he successful? Absolutely! The Kwai Bridge, as he named it, has stood solidly for the last seventeen years that I know of! Once this feat of engineering was mastered, then the next stage was to find a way to cross the oft raging waters of Mosquito Creek Canyon.
Once down on the banks of the creek, “A” once again found a similar solution to the problem of crossing Mosquito Creek’s main tributary. There was another fallen old growth giant admirably wedged across the waters! It could be used to bridge over to a series of big logs on the west bank of the creek! He set to planing it flat and etching it for improved traction. With all of that accomplished, all that remained was to choose an entry point into the forest above, where the track would continue its way into that splendid grove of cedars hidden nearby.
I have never had the chance to thank him personally, but the dedication he put into this project can only described as a labour of love. The North Shore Mountains have had more than their share of iconic trail builders, and Dreamweaver’s creator certainly takes his rightful place on that honour roll. Soon after it was built, the trail became a fast favourite of mine, and in the rest of this story I’ll try to show you why!
As the map shows, the trail actually begins in the maze of old skid roads near the top of St Mary’s Avenue in North Vancouver, where it makes use of a variety of different tracks which get it into the Mosquito Creek Canyon. For the purposes of this story I simply describe the trail from the point at which Dreamweaver intersects the Mt Fromme Trail, because I generally skip the conventional access and begin quite near where the Kwai Bridge is located ( I hike in via the Mt Fromme Trail which begins near the water towers at the top of Prospect Drive).
When some local officials first saw the Kwai Bridge ten years later, there was a lot of disdain for it. In fact, though, despite its unorthodox construction, it has proven its worthiness over and over again. When you cross it yourself, take the time to linger and appreciate the effort it took to make it a reality, as you gaze down the sharp defile into the canyon.
Once you are across the bridge, your journey into the old growth forest begins! There is a nice group of cedars to wander among before the trail makes its way downhill to reach Mosquito Creek’s log crossing.
The next segment of your excursion takes you across a slide slope that released about twenty years ago, with its origins half a kilometre uphill from the creek. The trail here becomes crude, with loose gravel, rock and exposed earth. New trees and foliage are struggling, with modest success, to reestablish growth on the rough hillside.
Once you’re down on the banks of the creek, you’ll be looking to cross it, then head slightly downstream on the opposite side. If waters are high, you might find that fording the creek is now necessary, because that sturdy downed tree that makes the crossing has shifted somewhat over the years during storms.
In heavy rains, Mosquito Creek is not the place you want to be! In fact, further down the canyon the District of North Vancouver has even had to construct some elaborate cages of wire rope cable in order to catch and control debris torrents. Despite its proximity to North Vancouver, there have also been a disproportionate number of hikers that have lost their way in this canyon. Be well prepared if you go hiking there, and allow plenty of time so you don’t get caught out by darkness.
The trail is sparsely marked once you reach the west side of the creek and enter the woods, so pay close attention to the footbed. The forest soon works its charm wonderfully as you hike upward once again. On a sunny morning I cannot think of a place I’d rather be, as every step adds to the enchantment.
The silvered and spiky treetops pierce the upper canopy as the sounds of woodpeckers and songbirds fill the air. The forest takes on an entirely different character; Douglas Squirrels chatter loudly, laying claim to their territory, and the sounds of ravens and eagles are often heard echoing above.
It isn’t unusual to see a deer, pine marten, or a black bear, and, on more rare occasions, even a bobcat or cougar. Barred Owls swoop silently in the treetops above sometimes, in search of prey. The creek itself is home to the Coastal Tailed Frog, a blue listed species in southwestern British Columbia, and the feisty Pacific Water Shrew.
The trees in this grove are centuries old, as wide as eleven feet in diameter, and the forest supports a diverse and mature understory which is wonderful to photograph. There are also immense boulders and several small brooks that trickle through the glades. It’s hard to believe that you’re so close to civilization when you walk there, and it’s very easy to lose yourself in the moment. Places like these must be preserved for future generations to appreciate!
You gain a few hundred metres in elevation as the track continues, and by the time you reach LGMH , you’re suddenly among the second growth trees again. Soon after that you will also encounter the signs of human detritus along the trail.
In terms of expediency, taking LGMH back down to the toward the top of Skyline Drive is the most efficient return to where you began, if you take my preferred route. Eventually you will reach the Baden Powell Trail and follow it down to the Mosquito Creek Bridge, (which isn’t far from the top of Prospect Drive). The Baden Powell Trail then loops back to Dreamweaver, and all of the other trails that connect to it.
Of all of the places in the North Shore Mountains I’ve hiked, the Dreamweaver Trail takes you through some of the most idyllic forest you’ll find anywhere. Hopefully you get the opportunity to explore the Mosquito Creek Valley more closely, though I do have to happily warn you that one visit probably won’t be enough. Just to prove it, here are some more images that showcase Dreamweaver’s beauty!
To close this out this diatribe, I’ll leave you with this 1976 music video by Gary Wright. I think it’s reasonable to assume his song just may have inspired the name of this trail. In any event, the music does seem to suit a walk through the wilderness, if you ask me. I played it while browsing the photos in this report and it somehow it just sounded right. I’ll let you decide if you agree!
Here in the Pacific Northwest, when talk turns to the preservation of old growth trees, generally what people are discussing are the giants of valley bottom ecosystems. Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Sitka Spruce are most frequently mentioned. Why is that? Well, the answer seems obvious, in that they are located at lower elevations and as such might seem more relatable to the average person. They also reach great size and are conspicuously targeted by logging companies in pursuit of the almighty dollar.
There are, however, a number of different species that grow in the Coast Mountains that simply don’t garner as much attention. One such tree is the Mountain Hemlock, also known as Tsuga Mertensiana . If you’ve ever explored the forests above 800 metres in elevation, then you’ve seen your share of them. What you have likely never heard, however, are sharp cries of protest when the oldest of their kind are cut down. In truth, most people remain unaware that they are even targeted for harvesting!
Invariably, you’ll find the Mountain Hemlock at those higher elevations, where it’s most prolific. In coastal British Columbia it shares space with Yellow Cedar, Pacific Silver Fir, and in this subalpine zone it tends to be the dominant forest tree.
Having spent an inordinate amount of time in British Columbia’s southwest region, I’ve come to admire this hardy survivor of the woods. It’s specially designed to be able to hold the heavy snows of winter in the alpine regions, and to shed them efficiently. The Mountain Hemlock can be found growing in the most adverse conditions. It can thrive in groves, where some protection from the elements is afforded, but some big specimens are often found on exposed ridges, where they must confront the wrath of winter head on. Smaller, stunted versions are often found growing on rocky summits where their trunks thicken even more to withstand the winds.
The Mountain Hemlock is a tree that grows at a very slow and measured pace. When you see one that is just several feet wide in diameter that usually identifies a tree that is already several hundred years old. Growing season is short and difficult in the mountains, and nutrients are sparse, yet I’ve seen so many that have lived multiple centuries. In 2008, when Cypress Provincial Park was given permission to remove trees to accommodate some of the facilities for the Olympic Games, I made a startling discovery. Quite by accident I wandered into an off limits area where dozens of old growth Mountain Hemlocks had been cut down. Even the ones that were just three feet wide proved to be over 400 years old when I counted the growth rings and some of the trees were nearly two metres in diameter. Experts estimate that the tree can reach up to 800 years in age but I am convinced that some may make it into a second millennium.
Yet another example of similar negligence occurred when the trail to Joffre Lakes was expanded back around 2010. BC Parks contracted a firm to do the excavation and during the process they decided to take down a number of Mountain Hemlocks that were over a thousand years old. This was done, allegedly, in the name of public safety, but truthfully in this case they simply took the easiest possible line to widen the path. I’m quite certain they would be standing today had that evaluation been more accurate.
Many an ancient Mountain Hemlock has been levelled by ski resorts, road builders, loggers, and even homesteaders building cabins, over the years. Sometimes this has been done for business purposes, and other times for expediency, but nevertheless countless venerable trees have been destroyed in the process. Much of that destruction has occurred out of sight and out of mind, and it’s high time we paid more attention to this fine and noble tree. In the big picture, it plays an important role in nature, and must not be forgotten!
Fifteen years ago, I cycled up the Seymour Valley’s East Side Road on an impeccable spring day. The intention was to find the approach trail that led up to Vicar Lakes and Mt Bishop, which I accomplished, but what I discovered was something else again.
Just minutes after wondering whether I ought to just head home after spotting what I thought was the tail end of a very big cat near the trailhead, I gathered myself and continued up the forest path toward Mt Bishop. I was glad I did!
At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but upon further examination, they were not. There in in an auspicious clearing in the forest was the monstrous trunk of a venerable Western Red Cedar. Due to the second growth trees that surrounded it, at first it was difficult to tell whether or not I was looking at a live tree or not, or even if it was a stump. I began to circle this giant, trying to get a look at its canopy high above the forest floor. Sure enough, it was alive, and it was immediately apparent just how ancient it really was, perhaps a thousand years old. What’s more, a somewhat smaller tree of similar old age sat quietly beside it in the shadows. This was a revelation!
It isn’t every day that you find two trees, each over seven centuries old! A decade and a half later, they are both still thriving well, and perhaps receive just a few dozen visitors every year. It’s hard to imagine that once trees like these were a common sight in the Seymour Valley, but heartening to know that their status is now well protected. See them while you can!
When most conservationists speak of forest protection here in the Pacific Northwest region, they are usually talking about the giants of valley floor forest ecosystems, such as Western Red Cedar, Douglas Fir, and Sitka Spruce. There is a species, though, that seems to consistently fly under the radar. That tree is the Garry Oak ( Quercus Garryana ), known also as the Oregon White Oak. With its twisting trunks and beautifully detailed bark, it doesn’t have the enormous size of many of its relatives in the Oak family, but in its natural habitat it certainly fills a vital and unique ecological niche.
Garry Oak ecosystems, which also support a wide variety of specialized plant life, have for years been endangered in their northern range. They are generally found on British Columbia’s Gulf Islands and on a relatively narrow strip along Vancouver Island’s east coast. Though once absolutely common in those areas, these trees have not fallen victim to disease, conventional logging, or even climate change, for the most part. So what, exactly, has shrunk their habitat?
The answer is actually quite obvious: their greatest enemy is none other than encroaching human civilization. People have a great desire to build homes in waterfront areas, where trees like arbutus and Garry Oak often thrive. Of course, land developers highly covet the land they grow upon, and this has led to severe reduction or elimination of many groves.
It’s now estimated that less than 5% of Garry Oak ecosystems here in coastal British Columbia remain intact. Most of those are basically islands of preserved growth that were once part of broader populations that also allowed for greater genetic biodiversity. The result of that condition is that numerous species found in these ecosystems are either endangered or at risk. What’s worse is that they are often battling invasive species like Scotch Broom just to survive!
In the general area of Nanaimo, where I live, you can find fair sized forests in Nanoose Bay, Parksville, Harewood Plains, Joan Point, and Mt Tzouhalem, for example. Sadly though, countless other populations are either small, dwindling, or already eliminated. I’m soon hoping to explore these forests in springtime, when their numerous wildflowers emerge. It’s a world I’m just beginning to discover, in what I now call my backyard. Here on Vancouver Island there is a society devoted to these trees, it’s called the Garry Oak Meadow Preservation Society ( GOMPS ). Continual efforts must be made to set aside protected areas for these fast disappearing trees, for without them, so much will be lost. The Garry Oak is well worth treasuring!
“I think we’ve got something here!” I turned abruptly, just in time to see Chris clambering swiftly up the steep gully we were crossing. From my vantage point, I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew he was absolutely serious. I followed along, and as he disappeared from sight into the brush, suddenly his source of excitement became obvious. There, on the south bank of the gully, was one of the most impressive Western Red Cedars I have seen, before or since!
The tree rests on the edge of an unnamed tributary about halfway between Kennedy and Wickenden Creeks, hence the moniker, somewhat borrowed from the Washington city of the same name. It took us quite some time to decide how to actually measure this giant, just because of the way it sits on the bank, but its diameter may well exceed fifteen feet! That ranks it in the top six we have seen in Lynn Headwaters Regional Park and far and away the largest Chris and/or I have discovered there. I returned to the tree again six years later with Doug in the spring of 2012 to find it still in excellent health!
What’s even more remarkable is that for its size its wood gives the appearance of a younger tree, and none of its towering leaders have yet been broken by storms. I believe that it is less than five hundred years old, which augurs well for record future growth, should it survive well. Perhaps more than any other tree, the Kennewick Cedar could perhaps truly inspire future generations of tree hunters in the region, because as I’ve said before, there have to be more giants out there just waiting to be discovered!
It was early December of 2005 when Chris and I set out on the Cedar Trail, trekking toward Kennedy Falls in North Vancouver’s Lynn Headwaters Regional Park. The route, at that time, was a relatively rough track that very few people bothered to hike, but it was a favourite of mine. It had that feeling of isolation that I so enjoy about wilderness, and along the way, there were two six hundred year old cedars to visit!
What we had hoped to discover, however, was an entirely different tree. It was perched, according to noted British Columbia tree hunter Ralf Kelman, on a precarious bank above a creek with no name. He had told me about it a year or two before, but it was only then that we were getting around to looking for it. As far as he was concerned, it wasn’t too difficult to locate, and was a highly underrated tree. Its age was approximately five hundred years, said Ralf, and it was roughly eleven to twelve feet in diameter. The tree had been discovered by Randy Stoltmann back in the early 1990s, apparently.
The key to finding the tree is relatively simple. There is a short section on the trail which is rigged with ropes to assist hikers down a steep bank to a creek crossing. Once you cross the creek, immediately make a left turn and follow a spine uphill along the creek. Eventually, you’ll reach the tree, which I started calling the Hurley Cedar years later on a day Doug, Ryan, and I were searching the general area for a lost dog who goes by that name. The dog was found alive and happy, though nowhere near the tree, but the name seemed to stick in my circle of friends so I am using it here.
It did not take us too long to find the tree, as Ralf’s directions were pretty concise. Once there, we spent half an hour or so enjoying the cool, crisp, early winter day. There was a fresh snowfall on the ground that added to the ambience and at least, we thought, it wasn’t raining at the time!
Over the years, I have returned to this grand old cedar on many occasions, so if ever you’re out this way, I suggest you pay it a visit yourself. You won’t regret the effort!
Times change. Thirteen years later, the trail to Kennedy Falls has undergone a metamorphosis of sorts. The building of a parking lot on upper Mountain Highway and temporary road closures of usual park access have served to help popularize the route. Up until that time, it was my understanding that Lynn Headwaters Regional Park had not marked the trail in both directions because there was a notion the location of the trail ought to be kept relatively quiet. Consequently, I don’t think they were prepared for the increase in traffic , which has also resulted in significant damage to the path. The actual marking of the trail is no longer an issue, but do please stick to the path and please do your part to minimize erosion.
Late in May of 2007, Chris and I decided it was high time to explore the Wickenden Creek Valley above the 400 m elevation. While we were uncertain as to what route to forge, we ended up figuring we’d just fly by the seat of our pants and just choose a random direction. Is that because the very nature of tree hunting is that you allow instincts to guide you? Well, not really, that’s just how we roll! Here’s how that day played out, well over a decade ago now.
Instead of enduring the rude awakening of fording the icy waters of Lynn Creek at the Third Debris Chute, we decided to walk the Headwaters Trail and visit one of my favourite trees first. Located not far off the path (to Norvan Falls) at roughly 4.7kms, this ancient Western Red Cedar carries with it a very illustrious tale. If ever you take the time to visit, you’ll know just what I mean! For more on that topic, just read The Story of The Survivor .
After saying hello to my old friend The Survivor, all we needed to do was bushwhack down to the east bank of Lynn Creek, where I now knew we would be able to cross over a massive fallen fir to the other side. We carefully picked our way through a field of Devil’s Club, aka Oplopanax Horridus, a well known spiny hazard for all would be tree hunters. If you see it, do not touch it!
This is a truly picturesque part of Lynn Creek Valley, with its wide, rocky banks and sweeping mountain views. I remember thinking at the time how fortunate I was to experience places like this so very close to home, and so close to the sprawling metropolis of Greater Vancouver!
The log crossing once again proved reliable, but it was the last time we had the opportunity to use it in ideal conditions. It was incorporated as part of a rough trail blazed by the North Shore Hikers in 1985, yet mysteriously, in 2009, when I saw it next, it had been deliberately stripped of all its bark and some of its branching, making it much more dangerous to cross. I have yet to learn exactly how or why that happened, but in any event I am not unwilling to ford Lynn Creek when conditions are right.
Now safely across Lynn Creek, Chris and I kicked up an eroded bank then worked our way southwest into the Wickenden Creek Valley. Fortune was shining upon us that day, as the sun emerged from the clouds and the day became comfortably warm. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves among the giants again. Lower Wickenden Creek has an ambience that is increasingly hard to find in southwestern British Columbia, with its towering cedars and firs that are centuries old!
The crown jewel of Wickenden Creek is a massive cedar that measures over 14 1/2 feet in diameter and has likely lived over seven centuries, though I’m uncertain as to its exact age. Chris had discovered it the year before, I believe, on one of his forays into the area, while Doug and I had found it just weeks before, in April of 2007. Here are a few images of this inspiring tree!
It seemed like a perfect time for us to take a bit of a respite at that point. We’d both started the day off relatively tired, and what better place could there be to relax for a while! Sandwiches were eaten and tales of recent adventures were shared, with the usual smattering of Simpsons imitations mixed in.
Writing this chapter today, I realize it’s been almost seven years since my last visit to this valley. So many places, so little time, I guess, but the memories brought to life by these photographs are as vivid as ever! It is a place I most certainly had hoped to return to sooner than later.
Once satisfied, it was time to get back to the plan, which essentially was to cover some ground we had not before. Choosing to follow a line in a westerly direction, we stayed for a time on the north bank of the creek. Travel was not too difficult, and we were surprised to find some fair sized Douglas firs as we pressed onward and upward.
The next thing we knew we were up against a near vertical slope that had little to offer the avid tree hunter, so the decision was made to take to the creek bed in order to progress further up the steep sided valley. Not only would the hiking be easier, but we also made an interesting discovery. Right beside the creek was a snag standing forlornly, not an untypical sight, until we saw what lay at its feet across the waterway. It was the remainder of what may have been the lower valley’s largest tree. The massive trunk had died, broken away, and crashed to the rocks below leaving only the snag standing. I am still convinced it might have been over 16 feet wide if standing intact, but it had degraded considerably so it was hard to be certain, as it might have fallen the century before!
We clambered further and higher, still hiking up the creek bed as a means of travel. I knew that at roughly 400m in elevation there was a broad clearing where we could make a clearer decision on where to walk next. It was something of a relief to hop some rocks for a while and take a break from the bushwhacking. In just another twenty minutes, we arrived at the point of reckoning.
At first it looked incongruous, to say the least . To our right were sheer cliffs and the south face of Wickenden Peak, and to the left, somewhat less steep slopes with the bleached broken tops of ancient cedars visible above us. There was also a gully heavily jammed with dirty looking snow to contend with. There had been an avalanche here, in what winter travellers often call a terrain trap, or shooting gallery. On top of many rocks was a loose layer of gravel as well, indicative of recent slide activity.
With a sheer stroke of genius, read, blindly choosing a random line, I suggested a way onto the spine above. Chris agreed, wryly commenting that we might as well try it before we started thinking too hard. It turned out that it worked, but not before we wondered if it would!
I wasn’t quite right, as it turned out. Rather than having attained the spine proper, we were now on one side of a narrow, concave basin and would have to cross it to get to where we wanted to be. This meant some ugly bashing through disheveled alder and salmonberry brush, but we sure as heck would not be retreating whence we came without a rope! This we did as patiently as we could, now within sight of the big trees again. It was remarkable how resourceful nature can be, that so many cedars had managed to grow so well there. I do not believe another human being has been there before or since, but I’ve been wrong about that before. Numerous specimens were between six and ten feet in diameter, and considering the tenuous growing conditions, many had to have been five centuries old!
There were a considerable number of fallen trees to negotiate and and some very unstable ground, but we didn’t mind taking our time as we took in the sights. It soon became apparent that we were walled in on the south side, so we’d have to head east, which would eventually find us back where we began the route at Lynn Creek. Just as we began hiking downhill, we discovered yet another giant cedar. It was at least twelve feet wide, and just so I could get a photo for scale Chris had to wedge himself into the hillside!
Following a new line back to our starting point produced many new finds, as we steadily lost elevation from our high point of about 550 metres. The weather not only held, but even improved a little as the day went on. Here are a few sights and scenes, as they were encountered.
The lower reaches of Wickenden Creek have numerous cedars in excess of eight feet in diameter, and as we walked down we would basically sight one and by the time we staggered to it we could then see another! It was a very rewarding day, to be sure!
In about half an hour we reached the banks of Lynn Creek once again, but one more challenge remained. It turned out we were well south of the log crossing, and because we didn’t feel like bushwhacking upstream, we decided to try and hop across on rocks instead. That started out pretty well, but it wasn’t long before we ended up getting wet anyway and having a few laughs. While the waters were frigid, at least the temperatures outside were pretty warm!
Once we’d taken some time to dry out we simply walked downstream and hiked back to the Headwaters Trail via the old North Shore Hikers Trail that still remains on the east bank of Lynn Creek. We enjoyed a few more sights and scenes.
It had been a real adventure, and my only regret is taking a dozen years to share this chapter of the tale. If truth be told, I had misplaced the photos for about five years. The Wickenden Creek Valley is truly one of the last great stands of old growth forest close to Vancouver, but if you do choose to explore it, be prepared for anything and everything. The last thing you want is to find yourself “Living on the Edge”!
He named it the Mary Jewell Cedar, after his closest companion. I never did get to see it for myself, but Vancouver artist Ralf Kelman described it to me as quite a sight to behold. It was a venerable cedar, roughly twelve feet in diameter, with an expansive hollow chamber, and perhaps seven centuries old. If it stood today, it would be among the largest remaining cedars in the Seymour Valley, to my knowledge, but sadly, it now lives on only in folklore.
The story of the tree’s demise dates back twenty years and begins with Ralf’s efforts to preserve the remaining giants of the Seymour Valley from logging. He walked the steep drainages below Lynn Ridge and The Needles, discovering and documenting these ancient remnants, in what was then known as the Seymour Demonstration Forest. At the time, the powers that be did not take kindly to being told what they could and could not do with the lands in our watersheds, including logging. It was only through bringing notoriety to the area that change would result. Each grove he found was later featured on a map published by the Western Canada Wilderness Committee ( WCWC ) and that, combined with timely and persistent lobbying, finally brought about an end to harvesting timber in Greater Vancouver watersheds.
It was in the early 1990s that Ralf visited the cedar with Mary Jewell and friend Neva Hohn. They made several treks to the forest, and enjoyed them well. Time, though, moved forward, and as the century turned, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve, as it is now known, eventually made plans to build the Seymour Valley Trailway above the old Seymour Mainline. There were upgrades slated for the Seymour Dam, and a need to give recreational users a safe way to access the valley. Unfortunately, when they were building the new route, the contractors decided the tree was an impending hazard and that it had to be felled. Another version of events was that one of the crews had an accident and damaged the tree beyond repair, though I have never substantiated that story. In any event, the Mary Jewell Cedar finally met its maker.
Does my story end here? Well no, of course it doesn’t! You see, roughly where the Seymour Valley Trailway road crosses the 4 km mark the rest of the trees still remain. If you look closely, after climbing a steep bank, you may find tattered remnants of 25 year old flagging tape that lead you steeply into a stately grove of Douglas Firs. The WCWC map calls these trails the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails, but nowadays what little that’s left is more of a suggestion than a trail, and above the grove there are even more hidden mysteries. What follows here are my tales of further exploration in this time forgotten place!
My first foray dates back to 2007, when Chris and I rode our bikes up the Seymour Valley to try and track down this group of trees. While the ride was short and brisk, travel was slow and deliberate in the woods, which is pretty much the norm for off trail exploration.
Not only did we find some of the valley’s taller firs, but a number of massive boulders that had come to rest in the forest there. Were they erratics deposited by glaciers or the byproduct of a powerful landslide? Difficult to say but nonetheless very impressive!
To round out our day we ended up bushwhacking our way northwest toward the upper reaches of McKenzie Creek. Steadily gaining altitude to about 550 meters in elevation, suddenly the forest began to get noticeably brighter. The reason was soon apparent, as we found ourselves at the base of a massive boulder field! I had the immediate notion there had been relatively recent activity there. The rocks were moss covered but almost every one of them moved when walked on, so we concluded the slide had not yet stabilized. We tread very carefully there for a while while we worked our way northwest. Were it not for the low cloud across the valley our perch would also have afforded fine views of the Fannin Range.
In another half hour we began our retreat to the bikes, taking a roundabout route to complete our circle of exploration. The hiking seemed somewhat precarious, with both of us staggering and lurching often through the loose underbrush.
The best moment of comedy came when I stepped on a log while moving downhill, and the next thing you know it was rolling right at me in pursuit! Not long after that, Chris nearly took an awkward fall of his own. When we hike, it’s not official until we each manage to end up on the ground somehow! We discovered several promising old growth cedars there too, but figured it was time to quit while we were ahead and forged our way back to the road.
Fast forward to the spring of 2018, when Doug and I took advantage of a sunny spring day to revisit these trees. After caching our rides carefully, we set off into the forest in the hope of making some new discoveries. Many a tree had fallen in storms since I’d last walked there, but most of the same giants still survived. For good measure we hiked up to the sunny, salal covered bluffs to the south of the trail, but soon doubled back to the grove, realizing that our time was short. It was one of those days just made for photography, so I’ll just let the pictures speak for themselves!
What is particularly inspiring about the firs of the Mary Jewell and Neva Hohn Trails is that they show such great promise for the future. Reaching estimated heights likely in excess of 240 feet already, in subsequent generations this group of Douglas Firs may well become some of the finer specimens in southwest British Columbia. Less well known than their nearby brothers in the Temples of Time Grove, they remain equally important. The most surprising thing of all, though, is their proximity to such a popular and busy trail, and the fact that only a handful of people have experienced them!
Though these trees have gained protected status for the foreseeable future, the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve is not particularly interested in promoting their existence, probably over concerns about public safety. That means, in a broader sense, that they’ll only be seen by the type of intrepid explorer who ventures off the road well traveled. In the end, maybe that is as it should be, for those who seek out life’s mysteries ought to be armed with the necessary passion and determination. For many folks, it’s enough just to know that forests like these are still out there!
It should be said that the Lower Seymour Conservation Reserve has definitely lived up to the promise of protecting the forests of the Seymour Valley. That is something that should never be taken for granted. Conservation today is as important as ever, if future generations are to experience the beauty of our remaining old growth forests
Travels and adventures past and present, from camping to hiking to searching for B.C.'s remaining old growth trees, and treks to the mountains